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Team Building Activities That Support Maker Education, STEM, and STEAM

with 5 comments

Working as a productive and sensitive member of a team is looked upon by STEM-based companies as being a requirement to being an effective and contributing employee:

As technology takes over more of the fact-based, rules-based, left-brain skills—knowledge-worker skills—employees who excel at human relationships are emerging as the new “it” men and women. More and more major employers are recognizing that they need workers who are good at team building, collaboration, and cultural sensitivity, according to global forecasting firm Oxford Economics. Other research shows that the most effective teams are not those whose members boast the highest IQs, but rather those whose members are most sensitive to the thoughts and feelings of others. (http://fortune.com/2015/03/05/perfect-workplace/)

In academia, the majority of research in STEM fields is conducted through collaborations and working groups, where a diversity of ideas need to be proposed and analyzed to determine the best strategy(ies) for solving a problem. In the technology sector, product development is done as a team, with specific roles for each individual but its success is predicated on each member of the team providing a different skill set / perspective. Thus, students who are interested in both academia and industry will benefit from learning how to successfully work in a diverse team. (https://teaching.berkeley.edu/diversity-can-benefit-teamwork-stem#sthash.mHRBJQtV.dpuf)

What follows are some team building activities that use collaboration to explore and solve STEM-related challenges. Note that most of them require minimal supplies – costs.

teambuilding

Great Egg Drop

To begin, assemble groups of 4 or 5 and give each group various materials for building (e.g. 5-20 straws, a roll of masking tape, one fresh egg, newspaper, etc.)  Instruct the participants and give them a set amount of time (e.g. 30 minutes) to complete building a structure, with the egg inside in which the structures are dropped from at least 10 feet in elevation and then inspected to see if the eggs survived. The winners are the groups that were successful in protecting the egg. (http://eggdropproject.org/ and  http://www.group-games.com/team-building/great-egg-drop.html)

Marshmallow Tower

Give teams of 4 to 6 learners 20 sticks of spaghetti, one yard of tape, one yard of string, and one marshmallow. Given a time frame of about 20 minutes, the groups must build the tallest free-standing structure out of the spaghetti. The marshmallow needs to be on top. (http://marshmallowchallenge.com/Welcome.html)

Marble Run

The challenge is to create a marble track using the given materials and have the marble land in an 8” square and remain there.  Give groups of 4 to 6 students: 1 piece of cardstock, 3 straws, 1 piece of string, 3 sheets of paper, 5 mailing labels, 4 paper clips, 3 rubber bands, and 2 pencils to complete this this task. (http://www.homeschoolcreations.net/2013/04/marble-track-instant-challenge-logic-for-kids/)

Drop the Golf Ball

Give each group of 4 to 6 learners 12 straws, 18 inches of masking tape and a golf ball. The goal is to build a container that will catch a golf ball dropped from about ten feet. Each group selects a “ball dropper” who stands on a chair and hold the golf ball at eye level. Each team places its container on the floor under where they think the ball will land. Each group gets three attempts and the group that gets a ball to go into their container and stay wins. (http://icebreakerideas.com/icebreakers-high-school-students/)

Straw Bridge

The challenge is for groups (3-5 members each) to design and construct a model of a single-span bridge using plastic drinking straws and masking tape as the building materials. The bridge is to span a distance of 40 cm, with no supporting pillars to the ground in between the ends of the span, and be approximately 10 cm wide. It needs to be strong enough to support a suitable load. This might be a book, a can of food, or other object of suitable weight placed on the middle of the completed structure. See Straw Bridge Challenge Worksheet: http://cteteach.cteonline.org/portal/default/Curriculum/Viewer/Curriculum?action=2&cmobjid=197387.

Toy Hacking Team Challenge

This is based on Toy Take Apart. In the Toy Hacking Team Challenge, each group of 3 to 4 members is given three or four battery-operated toys. Their task is to take all their toys apart and then using at least a few parts of each toy create a new toy or invention.

Construct a Chair

This activity asks groups of 3 to 5 members to design and build a full-sized chair from corrugated cardboard (and a mat knife) that could support the weight of a person up to 150 lbs. for up to 5 minutes. The person seated will be in a “comfortable” position with his/her back leaning against the back of the chair.  (http://mschangart.weebly.com/architecture/card-board-chair-design-challenge)

DIY Instrumentals

Learners make instruments from recycled or natural materials. See http://www.howweelearn.com/spectacular-homemade-musical-instruments/ recycled materials for ideas. Separate learners in small groups of 4 to 6 members in each group. Inform them that they will be performing a musical piece using all of their DIY instruments for the rest of the group. After a practice time, bring groups back together for the performances.

Sneak a Peek

Build a small sculpture or design with some type of the building material (Legos, Tinker Toys) and hide it from the group. Divide the group into small teams of two to eight members each. Give each team enough building material so that they could duplicate what you have already created. Place the original sculpture in a place that is hidden but at an equal distance from all the groups. Ask one member from each team to come at the same time to look at the sculpture for five seconds in order to try to memorize it as much as possible before returning to his/her team. After they run back to their teams, they have twenty-five seconds to instruct their teams how to build the structure so that it looks like the one that has been hidden. After the twenty-five seconds, ask each team to send up another member of their group who gets a chance to “sneak a peek” before returning to their team. Continue in this pattern until one of the teams successfully duplicates the original sculpture. (http://www.teambuildingportal.com/games/sneek-peek)

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

August 14, 2015 at 10:39 pm

5 Responses

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  1. This is a great article about team building. I am a huge fan of these types of activities. I completely agree that working as a team is a requirement to being an effective and contributing employee. If you can’t work as part of a team then I believe that nothing can be accomplished. I especially like toy hack challenge. That would be a great way to learn how to take an existing product to make something new and exciting. These are some great ideas that I plan to use in my classroom to help foster my students to work better as a team. Do you have any other ideas that I could use?

    anthony derby

    January 31, 2016 at 8:56 pm

  2. I think that the author of this article makes an important point about team building activities especially as it refers to cultural sensitivity. As the human race becomes more progressively diverse so does the work place. I agree with the notion that the “it” men and women are the ones who excel at social relationships and can apply it to the work place with collaboration and cultural sensitivity. As a teacher I deal with a diverse group of people who are not only my students but my coworkers as well. I find myself taking on the challenge of learning and relating to my students more and more as the years of experience go by. The more I know about where a student is coming from culturally, the better I can communicate with them and hopefully have a positive impact and give them a more enjoyable experience in my class.

    Nathan bazzell

    February 2, 2016 at 3:55 am

    • Yep, Nathan – this is the core of being a culturally sensitive educator..

      Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

      February 2, 2016 at 2:27 pm

  3. One modification I have made to team building activities like these: Instead rewarding -“first”, “tallest”, etc., I create a reward system is based on the “number of teams” that accomplish the goal. For example, in tower building activities the reward system is based on the height of all towers combined. This encourages sharing innovations and discourages the, “They’re copying us!” type comments. This way every team contributes something.

    Carl Davis

    June 20, 2016 at 11:56 am

    • Very cool – I like the whole group focus!

      Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

      June 20, 2016 at 11:20 pm


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